Higher History Suffragettes Essay About Myself

Why some women gained the vote in 1918

The Representation of People Act became law in February 1918. From that point on women over 30, who were occupiers of property or married to occupiers, were entitled to vote.

This was seen as a major success for women's suffrage and was also popular with the general public. The Act was not such a success for women under 30. They would have to wait another 10 years before they received the same rights.

The success, albeit limited, of women's suffrage in 1918 can be attributed to a number of factors.

The Suffrage Movement

A great deal of credit belongs to the women's Suffrage Movement. In the years leading up to World War I, the actions and campaigns of the suffragists and suffragettes had done much to highlight the political injustice women endured.

War work

The remarkable success of the thousands of women who entered the workplace to do the jobs usually done by men won them considerable respect and admiration.

Commonly referred to as the 'weaker sex', women had proved themselves to be every bit the equal of men.

Trends towards democratic reform

From the turn of the nineteenth century, political parties such as the Liberals and Labour favoured extending the franchise to sections of the population that were excluded at the time. Women were one such section. Before the war started the issue had been debated in Parliament and there was growing support for granting women the vote. Political recognition of the important role women played during the war further strengthened their case.

Historians still debate which factors were more or less important. The cumulative effect was the recognition of women's political rights in the Representation of People Act.

It ought to be borne in mind, though, that this was limited female franchise. Full adult suffrage was not achieved until Stanley Baldwin's Conservative government passed the Equal Franchise Bill in 1928. From that date, all adults regardless of gender were entitled to the vote once they reached 21 years of age.

How far did women's war efforts contribute to gaining the vote in 1918?

Women and the war

As men left their jobs and went overseas to fight in the war, suffragist and suffragette leaders volunteered their members to take their place. At first, the government met their offer with patronising remarks. But by 1915, as the war forced Britain to recruit more and more soldiers, the women's willingness to volunteer could no longer be ignored. Hundreds of thousands of women were employed in industries key to the war effort, such as munitions factories and weapons manufacturers. Many more women worked as conductors on the buses and trams, as labourers on farms, in hospitals as nurses and in offices as secretaries and assistants.

With the majority of young men enlisted in the army, the role these women played was crucial not only to the war effort but also to the running of the country. Even during the worst of the war, the buses still ran and the mail was delivered.

In 1918 'respectable' ladies over 30 years old who were householders, or married to householders, were given the vote. There are different views among historians why this happened when it did.

It was a token of gratitude for their effort during the war.

The highly skilled and dangerous work done by women during the war… was probably the greatest factor in the granting of the vote to women.


It was an appreciation of a mature political response when the country was at war

the sex war was swamped by the Great War


A few women's groups were reluctant to support what they considered an imperialist war, but most laid aside political campaigning and took up the war effort. Emmeline Pankhurst remarked that there was no point in continuing the fight for the vote when there might be no country in which they could vote.

Women gained a credible public identity as a result of their war effort.

Women's experiences during the war raised their self-image and sense of individual identity. In addition to that, many served with such distinction, in the medical services particularly, that their political cause gained credibility as a result.

War accelerated a process which had started well before 1914.

Women had been working for years in industry and business, with little political recognition of their contribution. Some historians such as Arthur Marwick (War and Social Change in the Twentieth Century, 1974), have argued that while it's possible that their role in the workplace would have earned them political advancement eventually, it was the war which highlighted the economic and strategic value of women to the country.

The pre-war political movement should get the credit.

Stressing the importance of women's war effort takes away from the impact which the pre-war women's movement had made. This line of argument can be taken further - the war actually delayed women receiving the franchise. Women's suffrage was on the verge of being granted just before war broke out in 1914.


The contribution women made during the war had an impact on attitudes to women. Politicians and the general public alike recognised that women deserved greater political rights. But it was not the only, and may not even have been the main, reason why women received the vote. Think about it. The women who benefited in 1918 were mature and married females. Young women who had contributed so much in the munitions factories and elsewhere were given no recognition by the government.

So the significance of women's war work may have been exaggerated by some historians. It's also true that the various women's political movements had prepared the ground for political recognition. Look at France for comparison, where women were not enfranchised at that time, despite their war effort. This was largely due to the fact that there was no women's suffrage movement in France pre-war.

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